Byzantine icon making- The Icon panel

There are many recipes and various materials to prepare icon panels for byzantine icon making. This recipe is for  plywood panel in whatever size you wish to be covered that is covered with the white gesso paste and sanded in order to have its smooth, white surface ready for the egg tempera colors that are used in byzantine iconography.
Various sizes of prepared icon panels
What you need:
Rabbit skin glue (in flakes or in granules)
Zinc oxide
Stucco (not the acrylic the classic staff  that is also used in walls)
Both powders are cheap and we buy them in stores that sell paints and building materials.
Quantities used
1 spoonful- Rabbits-skin-glue for
1 cup of zinc oxide
1 cup of stucco

Preparation of gesso
We add the rabbit skin’s glue in lukewarm water and mix it (try to dissolve it completely)
and then we leave it overnight
Next day we put in a baigne-marie make it warm, and then we dissolve it again 
We always keep a part of this glue 

 In this mixture we add the cups with the powders and we also pass the mixture  it through a stiring tool (a plastic mesh like for tea) in order to dissolve any knots
We keep it in the refrigerator

For every application of the mixture we first put it in the baigne-marie so it becomes liquid

Making the panel
You take a plywood of the size you wish (sandpaper the edges a bit) and you add with a flat brush the melted Rabbits-skin-glue
Right afterwards, you add a piece of cotton cloth (a bit larger that the panel)
Leave it to dry for a day

Next day you apply the gesso mixture, You leave every layer to dry a day and keep the mixture refrigirated
In the second layer of gesso, you cut the cotton right on the edge of the panel with a scissor

After the fourth layer you will need to starighten the surface with a spatula. Usually 4-7 layers of gesso are added

Finally you have sandpapering (I really dislike this step)  with various types of papers (from a rough to very thin). In the end  the surface should look and feel totally flat.

It seems a bit complicated but all it needs is just patience . Best of luck with it!


The Myrrhbearer or a contemporary painting of a Myrrh-bearing woman

Contemporary icon of the Myrrh-bearing woman

I consider female saints an essential part of my work, a theme that I very much like working on and exploring their imaging. In orthodox tradition there is a basic core of 7 women  that are called the Myrrh-bearers. The Myrrh-bearing women (Sts Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary of Klopas, Ioanna, Salome Susanna and many more)  were following and were disciples of the Lord, and stood by His side all times, in situations of peril even when all others have abandoned every effort and hope.

The “Myroforos” egg tempera on wood

 This icon of the “Myroforos”was an opportunity for me for an experimentation that I hope it paid out. So I drew inspiration from personal images and created this “saint” with modern clothes and a sober grey background, the background of the crucifixion.

A painting of a young woman, not knowing with her head, only with her heart, loving and not knowing, walking to the grave of the Lord in the darkest night.

The icon was hand painted, with several layers of egg tempera, on a canvas that was wrinkled attached on a wooden panel, and then covered on edges with a special plant dye that gives the icon an antique patina. Finally the icon was sealed with traditional wax varnish (or keronefto in Greek made with turpentine and wax) something that makes the light colours even more brighter

Versions of St Mary Magdalene


Shedding "light" on St Barbara – and another Iconography "How to"

The final steps on a byzantine icon – adding the lighter colors in the flesh”, “underlining” the facial features, adding even more light in the form of  pure white lines  marks the moment” when a portraits starts to become a saint, the highlight of the whole process.
Following the process in this  picture collage of St Barbara on the broken paddle – we follow the path to the light-  the essence in byzantine iconography,
Picture collage with the three final stages
In the first part of the pic the “second light” (the lighter flesh) is applied, near the eyes and nose- as well the blond highlights on the hair
In the second part – pure black in a very thin form , underlines the contour of the face, the pupils of the eye, eyelids and eyebrows, the nostrils and the corner of the lips- the expression.
Finally we have Psimythia- The pure white lines that are added on the forehead, over the eyebrows and under the eye on the nose and the tip  of the nose, the chin- the radiating pure light of a Saint-
Hope I ve “shed” some light on the process !
Danish St Barbara on the broken paddle

Colors in iconography – another "How to" or byzantine icons 101


Egg tempera is the medium for byzantine iconography – But what about the mineral pigments? Despite the variety of colors available on the market, there are only  ten (yes, 10) mineral powders that tradition holds necessary for the creation of a byzantine icon.

And yes, I think its only natural for the art that tries to portray  divine order to wisely pick very few and very potent colors for its symbolism. After all, nature has achieved that with even less in a rainbow…

Powder pigments of byzantine iconography in a row

So depending the school, or the master, the colors used (with some variations from time to time) are basically the following (in random order):

1.Titaneum white/ Blanc de titane
2. Black/ Noir d’ ivoire
3. Yellow ocher/ Ocre jaune
4. Cinnabar Red/ Vermillion claire
5. Rouge Anglais (a sort of brownish red)
6. Cadmium Red (a sort of Carmin)
7. Cadmium Yellow
8 Turquise Blue (or Blue Cobalt)
9. Green
10 Ombre vert/ Green Umbre

For example, -if numbers are easier for you to remember- a ccombination of 2,3 and 5 (while other schools use 3,5,1 and 10 or 9) produces what we call “proplasmos of the face” or simply the brown flesh, the color of the earthly soil out of which Adam was made.

Egg tempera: One egg yolk and a spoonful of vinegar

The proportions of the colors are important as well as proportions in the mixture of powders with egg and vinegar; How thick or thin we need the paint to be. White, ochre and vermillion combined, very thinly -that is with al lot of egg and vinegar-  are used for the almost transparent in some spots — highlights of the skin- but that is a subject of another post!!!

August a "How to do" month- How to make byzantine icon panels

Make your own byzantine icon panel?-Well that is actually not as difficult as it initially looks!

Making wooden panels in angelicon’s workshop

First  (after choosing a wooden board of the size you like) we have the connective medium, a type of hide glue that is turned into a gel with the addition of water.
Then zinc and gypsum is added in it and thoroughly mixed and then the pure linen cloth is attached to the wooden board with the assistance of the above materials
After layers and layers of the white paste, there is a lot of sandpapering (I really don’t like this dusting part…) till the white surface becomes perfectly smooth.!

Finally we have the painting on the back and on the sides with glue and red color as a finishing touch.

And not to forget to add your metal hanger on the back. The panel is now ready!

Saint Basil and his Greek Carols

St Basil the Great,  from Caesaria ,  a Saint that holds a very special place to Greek people’s hearts

St Basil’s miniature icon

His life of giving and caring for the poor, had made Him the Greek Father Christmas; All children are getting their gifts from “Agio Vasili”, and on New Year’s Eve (one day before His feast on January 1st) , regardless of the weather (which can be relentless… believe me), small children go out on the streets, in merry little companies, singing the carols of St Basil (kalanda) from door to door:

“…The New Year follows on Christ’s birth
So holy Christ who walks the earth
May bless you, every girl and boy
And fill all, and fill all—and fill all your hearts with joy!”

There is more of these wonderful translation of St Basil’s carols in

St Basil of Caesaria- original byzantine icon

My very best wishes for a Happy New Year and for the lucky coin in St Basil’s Pie!

An icon for Christmas- Nativity of Christ- A traditional byzantine interpretation

The Nativity of Christ; here the basic “figures of the story are all present: Christ Child in the manger, the little animals, Mother Mary looking at the worried St Josef, the Angels and the three kings bearing gifts.

The little shepherd playing a flute, nature rejoices, and the women (Salome) that are washing baby Jesus
Saint Josef sitting perplexed and the temptation

And on top the star of Bethlehem shining bright and the angels singing :

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men! 

Merry Xmas to you all!!!

In a black background- Holy Mother; Annunciation in purple and black

There is this feeling, you enter a in a church, (maybe in the countryside somewhere  in a small village) and the evening mass has started.-A traditional mass where there are no lights, only the small flames of the candles,

So among the fumes of the incense, the little bells, and the chants, images of Saints (written in dark backgrounds) are emerging from the walls lighted up by their halos, leaning towards you. And then Her figure in the front- She is always there, Open to you, ever forgiving, radiant with love. The Mother.

Holy Mother in black background
Virgin Mary in Annunciation -Size 5.5″ x 7″ (14cm x 18 cm)

“..Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word..” KJV, Lk 1:38. Says the icon; It is the Virgin Mary in  a part of a larger synthesis depicting her Annunciation.

Eka interpreted this theme, painting Mother Mary, Panagia (Pan-Aghia – All Holy- the word for Her in Greek) using more dark colors, trying to catch the sentiment I just tried to describe….

St. John Rigologos- an Ai Yiannis that brings you the chills…

The last big feast of the Greek Church year comes on August 29th. It is the feast of  “Ai Yiannis o Rigologos” that can be loosely translated as St John that brings tremors or maybe the chills.

The day of the Beheading of the Saint, where a strict fast is observed; People do not eat anything related to blood (no black red grapes and red figs  of the season), anything touched by a knife (bread is cut by hands ) – otherwise they will disrespect the name of the the Saint , and have tremors instead (an orthodox Greek nemesis).

Strangely this was connected with outbreaks of malaria fever and the Saint was believed to assist and relief people from this disease.

St Jonh the baptist
Holy byzantine icon of Saint John, egg tempera on wood 7″ x 5″ (18cm x 13cm)

There is a very old custom in a village in South Crete (a beautiful place named Viannos) – The person that is sick should visit the church of the Saint, pray on the Saint’s icon, light the candles, fragrance the whole place with censer and then tie a thread (from his clothes or his handkerchief) on the church candles and pray:

Here I lay to you, Ai Yanni, my fever
Here I lay to you, Ai Yanni, my tremor
Here I lay to you, Ai Yanni , my anorexia and my disease
He /she will then “round’ the church three times with the tread, repeating these words, and then the skinny Saint, the “Angel on earth” will listen to his/hers prayers and give his/her health back again

Baking a Pie in a Saint’s name- Greek Fanourios pie or "Fanouropitta"

Recipe’s are not my “strong” spot but this one is prepared in the name of, Saint Fanourios. A beloved saint that has been revered by Greeks (much more than many others more “important”saints) for centuries. As his name indicates, St. Fanourios (from “fainein” to make seen, to reveal)  is an expert – in making  things obvious, in revealing things, or persons that are lost.- So when requesting his assistance you promise to bake his pie and bring it to his church as an offering.

An icon of St. fanourios by angelicon
Saint Fanourios in a pink Background, egg tempera in wood (13cm x 10cm)

Each year the faithful compete each other by baking the most delicious “fanouropita” that is basically made by 9 ingredients, in the eve of his name day (August 27th). The priest blesses the cakes (maybe hundreds of them) that are gathered in the church and everybody returns home with 3 or maybe 4,  varieties of this delicious desert.

I translated the traditional recipe form the excellent book of Maria and Nikos Psilakis; “Traditional Cretan cuisine- the miracle of Cretan Diet” and here it is:


A priest on the Saint's day blessing his pie
The priest blessing the Saint’s pie,
in front of his icon


1 glass of olive oil
1 glass of sugar
1 glass of orange juice
1 spoonful (soup) of raki or cognac
Half a glass of nuts
1 apple or pear in cubes
1 spoonful cinnamon and one of clover in powder
1 spoonful baking powder, 1 teaspoon of soda (powder)
Half a glass of raisins
Flour “as much as it can get” (the mixture should be thick, not too fluid)
We mix oil with sugar and add the baking powder (which is dissolved inside the cognac), soda (which is dissolved inside the orange juice), cinnamon and clover, raisins, fruits, nuts and finally flour

We mix very well and empty the mixture in a well “oiled” baking pan. We put sesame (that is slightly roasted in a pan) on top and bake in a medium oven for an hour approx.

Even if not near a church, we dedicate the pie to the saints name!

Note: The final Picture comes from the book Traditional Cretan cuisine- the miracle of Cretan Diet”- of Maria and NikosPsilakis